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'A Tissue of Illusions'



A footnote to Douglas George's letter to the editor (Mailbox, Aug. 3) about the fiction of free will and how the mechanics of cognition prove it is an illusion.

Isaiah Berlin, the late Russian-British polymath and philosopher of intellectual history, wrote in his famous essay about Tolstoy that freedom is real but it is confined to trivial acts, like nodding one's head or choosing a brand of toothpaste.

Other than these petty undertakings, man is the animal who deceives himself. As Mr. George noted, echoing Gautama Buddha, man lives in, for and by illusion. His consciousness is a tissue of illusions. All of us are part of an inexorable stream, a protean existence at the center of which lie terror and mystery; thus our metaphysical anxieties about the limitlessness of time and space.

These unbearable anxieties are relieved by illusions completely beyond our conscious control and therefore beyond volition. The illusion of free will, like the illusions of romance, natural rights, the resurrection of the body, patriotism and God are the ineluctable results of human megalomania, our soaring hubris and mountainous vanity.

Yes, the superstition of free will, like the superstition of God, is a necessity in the interests of law, the courts and social cohesion until at last humankind grows up and frees itself from superstition (not likely).

In the meantime, as George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans) wrote in Middlemarch, "Chance has an empire which reduces choice to a fool's illusion."

Even if free will existed, it would be wiped out by chance, accident, chaos and entropy.

All men are fools. Socrates is a man. Socrates is a fool.

He had the virtue of knowing he was.  

Paul Mann, McKinleyville

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